Mind the Governance Gap: Banks Gilding the Sustainability Lily

The GFC has shown that unsustainable banking activities can bring the economic system to the brink of collapse. A new report by Catalyst Australia examines to what degree banks can also cause or alternatively mitigate social and environmental harm, and what are the resulting responsibilities towards the community and the environment?

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The Sustainability Record of Australia’s Big Banks

sustainable banking australia catalyst report

Australian companies will soon be publishing financial results, as well as information about sustainability efforts. Corporate social responsibility of the big four banks – Australia and New Zealand Banking Group (ANZ), Commonwealth Bank of Australia (CBA), National Australia Bank (NAB) and Westpac is a continuing topic of debate following recent scandals and reports of unsustainable activities. Yet according to ANZ chairman, David Gonski, Australians ought to “stop bashing the banks” for being large and profitable. This comment should put civil society on guard.

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Apple Profits From Decade-Long Supply Chain Labour Exploitation

Apple Cash Trend 2015
Apple Cash, Cash Equivalents and Marketable Securities
2006 to March 2015 (US$ billions) – Source: Apple Annual and Quarterly Reports

Apple Inc. is the richest and most iconic corporation in the world. In 2010 Apple became the most valuable brand, with an 84% jump in brand value to $153.3 billion. By March 2015 Apple’s revenue was up to $212.2 billion, while in February 2015 Apple attained a market capitalisation of $770 billion, nearly double that of ExxonMobil, Google and Microsoft. Apple’s large profit margins have contributed to a cash hoard of $193.5 billion, which means that the company has more cash on hand compared to cash balances of most industries in the United States combined. In a stark illustration of how extreme inequality disfigures operations in global value chains, Apple’s abundant wealth ultimately rests on the suffering of young workers in electronic sweatshops where human rights, labour standards, environmental safety, and business integrity are routinely ignored.

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Supply chain migrant worker exploitation

Fresh Food Supply Chain Worker Exploitation
Photograph: Bloomberg via Getty Images

Supply chains that deliver everyday products to our fridges and tables can link unsuspecting consumers to labour and human rights abuses. Supply chain transparency is a better answer to the issue of worker abuse than “cracking down” on visas, which can make workers more vulnerable to exploitation.

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Supply Chains of Australian Fashion Retailers at Risk of Exploitation

supply chain protest
Protests against garment factory owners and their threats and intimidation of workers in Dhaka, Bangladesh. Photograph: Sk Hasan Ali/Demotix/Corbis 

Australian fashion companies lack transparency around their supply chain or do not have full knowledge of where their raw materials are being sourced from, leaving workers including children at risk of exploitation, an audit has found.

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Tackling the Myths Around Child Labour

While the movement to eradicate child labour has gained significant pace, there is still a lot of ground to be covered and work to be done by companies and investors in conjunction with trade unions and NGOs, writes CSR researcher Martijn Boersma from Catalyst Australia.

In its latest report, Catalyst Australia examines the efforts and collaboration of global unions, NGOs, companies, and investors in dealing with child labour in global supply chains.

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